91-Year-Old Grandma Busted in California for Suicide Kit Business

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 27, 2011   |   5:35PM   |   El Cajon, CA

Sharlotte Hydorn, a 91-year-old great grandmother was busted in California this week for selling suicide kits over the Internet from her home. She had been selling them for 20 years but opened her door to FBI agents this week.

The FBI raided her home and combed through it for 11 hours after a 29-year-old man killed himself using one of the kits she sold. Nicholas Klonoski, from Oregon, was described as otherwise healthy until he decided to take his own life.

The agents had a 337-page search warrant from a local judge and she is now under investigation for alleged conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, tax evasion and the “sale of adulterated or misbranded medical device.” She sold the suicide kits under the name GLAD, Glorious Life and Dignified Death.

Earlier this month, members of the Oregon Senate voted to ban the sale of the kits in a bill passed unanimously in response to the death of Klonoski, who killed himself after using a kit he purchased from a company in California. The bill prohibits the sale or transfer of “any substance or objects to another person knowing that the other person intends to use” it to commit suicide. Hydorn has been able to evade a loophole in California law to sell the kits but may have run afoul of federal laws.

On Wednesday, Hydorn was led from her home and led her out at gunpoint, according to the London Daily Mail. Official seized the computers and sewing machines they found as well as documents and other information. They also seized 20 suicide kits that were ready to be mailed.

‘I had guns in my face,’ she told the newspaper. ‘I didn’t know what to say. I thought: “I’m dying on my feet.’ They took all my thread, and my spread sheets. I don’t even have my phone numbers.”

Special Agent Darrell Foxworth, of the FBI’s San Diego office, told the local CBS news station: “We served a federal search warrant authorized by a federal judge in connection with a criminal matter. It’s an ongoing investigation.”

But Jake Klonoski, 30, told the newspaper, “Somewhere in her cash register is a check for $60 from my brother for his life.”

Klonoski was a graduate of South Eugene High School and the University of Michigan and was suffering from depression, pain and fatigue when he purchased the “helium hood kit” from Hydorn.

The kits cost about $60 and contain a plastic bag that fits over a person’s head and a tube the person can use to connect the bag to a tank of helium gas. Although the Oregon assisted suicide law requires a doctor to write a prescription for the lethal drugs people used to take their lives, the kits can be purchased without a prescription, mental health evaluation or any other safeguards.

“I frankly don’t care if that law passes at the end of it,” Hydorn said. “I have no anger and no resentment. Oregon is free to do as Oregon wishes.”

Sen. Floyd Prozanski, a Eugene Democrat who sponsored the bill, according to AP, said, “We want to send a message, to make it very clear, if you are in the business of marketing or selling suicide kits to people, you will be held accountable.”

Hydorn said she would stop selling the kits to Oregon residents if the law eventually prohibits it. The bill now heads to the state House and then needs the signature of the governor.

The group Californians Against Assisted Suicide responded to the seizures in a statement, saying, “While the action by law enforcement to shut down a troubling helium-hood assisted suicide kit business operating in San Diego County is a positive development, there are still groups and organizations promoting the spread of assisted suicide as mainstream public policy.”

“The practice of assisted suicide, legal only in Oregon and Washington, presents very real and dangerous public policy and societal implications, particularly to people living with depression, serious disease or disability,” the group said. “For example in 2008, Oregon television station KATU ran a story about cancer patient Barbara Wagner who was denied chemotherapy medication by the Oregon state health plan, and instead was told the state would pay for assisted suicide.”

The group continued: “Perhaps the most significant reason is the deadly mix between assisted suicide and profit-driven managed health care. Again and again, health maintenance organizations (HMOs) and managed care bureaucracies have overruled physicians’ treatment decisions, sometimes hastening patients’ deaths. The cost of the lethal medication generally used for assisted suicide is about $35 to $50, far cheaper than the cost of treatment for most long-term medical conditions. The incentive to save money by denying treatment already poses a significant danger. This danger would be far greater if assisted suicide is legal.”

Oregon became the first state to legalize assisted suicide in 1994 and the most recent state health department report in January showed every year the number of people who kill themselves under the Oregon first-in-the-nation law increases. The Oregon Public Health Division released the 2010 “Death With Dignity” report and it found 59 reported deaths from the 96 lethal prescriptions that were written with an additional six deaths from lethal prescriptions written in previous years. With the exception of 2009, the number of people dying has gone up every year as has the number of lethal prescriptions written.

Of the 65 patients who died under the law in 2010, most (70.8%) were over age 65 years of age, all were white, well‐educated and had cancer. Almost al of them died at home and were receiving hospice care at the time of their suicide. About one-third were on Medicare at the time.

Since the law was passed in 1997, 525 patients have died from ingesting the lethal cocktail of federally-controlled drugs.

Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition says the report shows people continue to die without dignity.

“The Oregon stats continue to indicate that elder abuse is likely. Those who died by assisted suicide indicated that 61 (93.8%) of the people felt a loss of autonomy, 61 (93.8%) felt a decreasing ability to participate in activities, while 51 (78.5%) of the people felt that they had lost dignity,” he explained.

In addition, just one of the patients was referred for psychiatric or psychological evaluation prior to the suicide — indicating patients may be pushed into suicide without proper mental health care beforehand.